Not far from the New York Stock Exchange, which now has more barriers around it than a fortnight ago, protesters are still occupying a park as part of their campaign to… to… well, to do whatever they’re trying to do.
The hundreds (and, at times, thousands) of people who have been gathering are committed to a cause. The problem is that it’s not necessarily a common cause – and it’s a cause that they have trouble enunciating.
In theory, the campaign is based around the distribution of wealth, regulation of large companies and universal welfare.
You wouldn’t necessarily know that on quick glance, though.
The mainstream media has been giving the demonstration limited coverage and a lot of the independent journalism seems to have been fairly nonjudgmental, as if supporting the cause somehow makes them more in-touch than other media outlets.
So I thought I would head into the financial district myself to try to find out more firsthand.
It was the eleventh day of the ‘occupation’ and after spending some time watching and talking with the protesters, I was left with a strange nebulous mix of impressions.
There is something disconcerting about a group of unwashed activists, either unemployed or choosing not to be at work, criticising hard-working citizens who have spent decades to get to the top of their profession.
But then again, they speak of the evils of the systems in the US and you can’t help but agree that the country seems to be doing nothing to help those most in need.
You’re then struck with the seeming futility of the whole cause – the demonstrators claim big business and big government don’t care about ‘ordinary people’… so why would they bother paying attention to a small gathering of pierced, tattooed, smoking, hippy-like trouble-makers?
The whole scenario is so full of contradictions it’s not surprising to discover that although they call themselves ‘Occupy Wall Street, they’re actually a few blocks away.
At one point I struck up a conversation with Sean, a young guy from Baltimore.
Well, he’s from Baltimore now because he had to move from Washington when the cost of living got too high. He’d come to join the protest because of the inequity he sees in the country’s economy.
“When I was growing up I used to think our family was middle class, and then one day I realised that we were actually working poor,” he told me.
Sean was clearly quite intelligent and articulate in his conversation but he was also covered in tattoos so it wasn’t a surprise to find out he’s a tattoo artist by trade.
But getting inked is apparently a luxury in tough financial times, and he’s not doing a very good trade at the moment. All around him he just sees people slipping deeper into poverty.
“My father’s a carpenter but he’s sick right now so he can’t work and doesn’t get paid by his company. But he can’t quit and find a different job because he needs the health benefits. It’s the same story all over the place.”
Sean’s thinking of leaving America, fleeing the ‘land of opportunity’ to find somewhere with real opportunities.
He thinks this protest will either grow across the nation and cause a significant change or it will fail and, in his words, “if this one can’t work, nothing ever will”.
There is potential for growth. The demonstrators have got a strong organisational structure and they run things from the headquarters at the park.
Cardboard signs list what’s happening at specific times of the day (7:30am is wake up, by the way); people wander around with food at lunchtime; and different groups are assigned different tasks.
There’s a communications centre with laptops and video cameras (although by ‘centre’, I mean a bunch of tarpaulins over backpacks arranged in a circle), and press conferences are held for the media who hover around hoping for more teargas-related police intervention but reluctantly pay lip-service to the campaign so they don’t feel like their time was wasted.
Similar protests have now popped up in other cities across the US, and even more are planned. These people are certainly in for the long haul, but that might not be enough.
Dedication, passion and ideals are important for a campaign like this but, on their own, won’t succeed in changing anything.
As we all know, Barack Obama got to the White House by promising ‘hope’ and ‘change’ but was stifled by reality.
If the President can’t change the nation, what hope do these guys have?
Perhaps Sean has the right idea to just get out of here…
4 thoughts on “Occupy Wall St”
Look, the real problem is the idea that we need to boil natural human needs down into sound bites for easy digestion.
It isn’t a single problem, here, it is an entire constellation of issues that work in concert to destroy the America that we were taught to believe in.
Over the last 30 years, we have been stuck with a corporate structure that is quite capable of buying politicians… and politicians that are quite capable of simply lying to us about anything that actually reached the media…. and media that knows that their bread is buttered with corporate dollars.
It is a viscous circle that has lead to the destruction of the middle class, our continuous military involvement in one nation after another, the erosion of choice, and the destruction of our illusionary freedom.
What is worse is that, while nobody (in general) seems to actually disagree with any of this, very few seem to care enough to do anything, nor do they come up with a more constructive way to solve these problems. Your article is a perfect example.
The truth of the matter is, though, it does matter.
We all see that the country is going broke, but we are OK for right now, this minute… so it doesn’t SEEM like a big thing. Most people at home think like this… they have money, they have food, they have a home… they might feel bad for the rest, but it really doesn’t affect them directly. The problem is growing, and the numbers are public record.
Give it a few years.
What we are trying to do it get the conversation open. We are trying to start the process of change (actually start it, not simply give it lip service… thank you, Mr. Obama). If we succeed, then we might actually make this world a better place.
What if we fail?
There is obviously a pretty large contingent of people that are upset about this now. The last election showed marginal but HIGHLY dedicated support for non-standard politicians. Ron Paul, Kucinich, Nader… We then saw a lot of people interested in the events of 9-11, and getting a real investigation done. A lot of people are interested in bringing federal money out of the Fed. All of these are valid topics of conversation in a real democracy… and there are a lot of others; health care, the environment, our foreign policy, our domestic policies, etc.
The people acting now are the ones that are long sighted and intelligent. They are seeing these problems forming and becoming more solid. They are looking at averting these issues now, and saving ourselves the heartache in the future.
What happens when the people that are short sighted suddenly realize that they have no food, no money and no voice? They will probably act far less responsibly.
Look to history… most revolutions started exactly this way. A few, dedicated individuals pointing out that we were going the wrong direction, being laughed at and minimized… followed by a real, and predictable, collapse… followed by a massive upsurge of really pissed off populous ready to burn buildings and tear down establishments.
I would really rather avoid that. Revolutions, like wars, are hell. Pain, suffering, starvation, rape, torture… these become common things. Most people that want to see a revolution start don’t have quite the fun they thought they would once they are going.
I really think that we are at the edge of this now. I by no means support the idea of a violent revolution… but I think one may be on the way, no matter my opinion on the matter.
It is time we sat down and solved these issues NOW.
A suggestion. There seems to be some debate about a course of action. I have one which will challenge federal authority and, if supported, greatly injure the 1% in a peaceful fashion. Victory gardens. The federal government bases a large portion of their authority on the Supreme Court case of Wickard v Filburn (1942(?)) in which the federal government was granted authority over individual actions …, THAT IF TAKEN BY ENOUGH PEOPLE COULD AFFECT INTERSTATE TRADE. Specific to this case, the right to tax and regulate what a person grows for their own consumption. Challenge this in the most basic way. Grow food. Eat the food. Give the food to your neighbors. If we can feed the population of the United States for 1 month it would end the current financial system. If we feed 10% of the population for 1 month they will feel the impact throughout their system. The more people we feed, the less people they can tax by food purchase. What are they going to do? Come and start pulling up our vegetable gardens? All of them? Grow food in containers in your livingroom. Grow food in your yard. The more food we grow and eat the less money Monsanto gets for their gene modified food-like products which they do not even label. The more food we grow and consume the less control they have. Deny them a revenue source. Grow food. Overgrow the 1%.
Great post, Michael! The photos are as telling as your commentary. 🙂
I am going to be in NYC next week, and will let you know what things look like then.
Thanks again for joining in with this week’s Traveler’s Show & Tell blog carnival. I hope you join in again soon.
When you visit Amsterdam make sure you go to a smartshop and do not buy them in a souvenirshop. most times they will sell bad stuff, with no advise at all.